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8 Must Know Facts About the Feist Dog Breed | My Pet Needs That

When you adopt a new dog, it is always a good idea to know a bit about its breed before you take the plunge. For some breeds, this is easy, but other breeds, like the Feist Dog, aren’t that well known. Dog personalities vary so much. If you don’t know a little bit about your dog’s breed, you could be getting anything from a protective watchdog who is bad with children, to a happy cuddle muffin who would probably become best friends with your intruders rather than raising the alarm!

Feist Dog Breed

Introducing the Feist Dog

If you are a dog lover, you probably have a pretty good idea about the personality of many dog breeds. Labradors are friendly, German Shepherds are protective, and Border Collies are intelligent, but you may need a little bit of help with the lesser-known breeds, such as the Feist dog.

Read here our guides on Dog Food for Border Collies and Dog Food for German Shepherds.

Feist dogs are an American home-grown mixed breed created by crossing terriers brought over from England with several different breeds. Most commonly, Greyhounds, Beagles, or Whippets. Although not often listed as part of the most popular breeds, they have had some famous advocates, such as President Teddy Roosevelt who had a Feist named Skip, and author William Faulkner who owned several and mentioned them in his work ‘The Sound and the Fury’.

Check out our articles on Dog Food for Greyhounds and Dog Food for Beagles.

Interestingly, most of these advocates use different spellings of the dog’s name, from Fyce, by Faulkner, to Fice, by Abraham Lincoln, and Foist, by George Washington. This just highlights the confusion caused by the breed as their exact origins and understanding are unknown. While we can be fairly confident of their Terrier routes, many other stories are floating around, such as that they are also descended from a short-nosed breed bred by Native Americans.

8 Feist Dog Fun Facts Everyone Should Know

The United Kennel Club only recognizes one type of Feist – the Treeing Feist – as an identifiable breed, but outside of their definitions, the breed can vary quite widely in characteristics. The average Feist, however, is 10-18 inches in size and 15-30 lbs in weight. A dog is more than its physical characteristics, however, so what other Feist fun facts do you need to know? Here are 8 essential facts to get you started.

1. Feist Dogs Are Hunting Dogs

A great way to understand more about a dog is to understand their history and why they were bred. Possibly as early as the 17th century, terriers from Britain were being bred with hunting dogs to create hunting companions here in the United States. Many Feist dogs are still used for hunting today.

The most common type of Feist – the Treeing Feist – gives us a clue as to how these animals were used in hunting. Rather than stalking, attacking, and bringing back the prey themselves, which is known as retrieving, these dogs were trackers. Their small stature made them light and fast, which made them ideal for tracking rodents, such as squirrels. This is where the tree comes in. Feist dogs chase and corner the squirrels in trees so that they remain trapped, giving time for the Feist’s owners to line up their shot.

When you adopt a dog that is bred for hunting, you must be prepared for a certain level of aggression. For many breeds, it can be very easy to train and control this aggression, but you must be prepared to commit to this training. Luckily, Feists are trackers, not retrievers, and this reduces their aggressive tendencies when compared to other hunting dogs. Trackers tend to be more playful and excitable than aggressive as they are not required to attack any animals, just trap them.

You may also like our review of the Best Food for Hunting Dogs.

2. Feist Dogs Are Southern Icons

Teddy Roosevelt and William Faulkner are not the only famous faces that had a love of Feist dogs. Many Southern names showed affection for the dog, such as Presidents George Washington, who was born and died in Virginia, and Abraham Lincoln, a native of Kentucky. In fact, it is quite an interesting cultural phenomenon how knowledge about one little dog can change so much depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you are on.

As these dogs were originally born and bred in the South, it comes to no surprise that they embody the historic culture of toughness and tenacity that has arisen since the days of the frontier. The dogs were raised to survive a difficult and harsh rural life, and so have developed a ferocious personality, despite their small stature. It is very likely their name even derives from the word ‘feisty’.

Their place in Southern culture can be found in some Southern literary works. As we’ve already mentioned, William Faulkner, who was born and died in Mississippi, wrote favorably about them in many works, as did President Lincoln, who wrote a poem featuring the dog’s fierceness that he titled ‘The Bear Hunt’. A Feist named Perk also features in the book ‘The Yearling’ by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and its 1946 film adaptation.

This Southern connection may endear you to this breed if you are, yourself, from a Southern state, but on a more practical note, it is worth highlighting that, as we’ve mentioned, this mixed breed’s accurate origins are a little bit of mystery. If you add in that they are relatively less well known as a breed, it is possible that some vets in northern states will not be as familiar with them as other breeds.

feist dog on coach

3. Feist Dogs Are Not Jack Russell Terriers

How familiar your vet is with your dog breed is not likely to cause much of an issue, but the more familiar a vet is with a particular breed, the better advice they will give you when it comes to preventative health care and lifestyle. Some dogs need more food and exercise than others, for example, or they may be genetically prone to certain health problems, as we will discuss next.

When it comes to Feist dogs, in particular, many people get them confused with the Jack Russell Terrier. This is not as problematic as getting a Bull Dog confused with a Labrador, but they are very different animals. Dog shelters, in particular, commonly mistake the two breeds, so it is worth double-checking when you adopt from a shelter.

Differences that suggest you are looking at a Feist and not a Jack Russell include:

  • A softer, smoother coat
  • Longer legs
  • Shorter tails
  • A calmer, less combative attitude when not hunting

To be fair on those who misidentify the Feist dog, it is a very difficult breed to recognize. Their mixed breed status means they can vary wildly, and there is no consensus about what constitutes the two main types of Feist – the Mountain Feist, or the Treeing Feist. Indeed, many organizations have only recognized one of the two types.

4. Feist Dogs Live Long Lives

The average Feist dog lives around 13 years, but it is worth noting that they have been known to live up to 18 years. This is a serious commitment, and something you must be ready for if you want to adopt one. They are generally very hardy and healthy breeds with strong immune systems, and who rarely fall ill.

Their long lifespans and toughness are probably due to the tough environments that they were bred in, but that does not mean they do not have their weaknesses. All animals and breeds have some genetic weaknesses that may require some preventative health care. Common Feist health problems include:

  • Allergies

Feists can be prone to a variety of allergies, from food allergies to pollen and environmental allergies. You should watch out for allergic reactions and potential symptoms, and note down as much information about what could have caused the reaction before taking them to the vet. Your vet will be able to run some tests to try and find the allergen. Once you know, it is as simple as making sure they avoid the allergy in the future.

  • Hip or Elbow Dysplasia

This is a skeletal disease that can occur in smaller dogs. Essentially, it involves the bones that make up your dog’s joints growing abnormally, causing rubbing and friction in the joint. The joint will then be unstable, and pieces of bone or cartilage may even break off. Over time, your Feist may suffer from pain and arthritis. Early discovery can allow for surgery that may help prevent this. Your vet will be able to tell you if this is necessary.

  • Patellar Luxation

A similar joint issue as dysplasia, patellar luxation occurs when the knee joint is formed abnormally, causing the joint to move out of place. You can go to your vet to ascertain whether your Feist’s knees may need some extra care, but many dogs can still live full lives even with the condition. If your dog is diagnosed with patellar luxation, you must simply keep an eye on their knees, particularly for any pain or lameness. Severe cases can be treated using surgery.

Take a look at our guide on Dog Knee Braces.

5. Feist Dogs Are Fun And Energetic Companions

If you are an active person seeking a companion who can keep up with you, then a Feist is perfect. Their hunting past has ensured they have plenty of energy and loyalty. This can make them fantastic family pets as they are also quite good with kids, partially due to their usage as tracking dogs, rather than as aggressive retrievers. They are also not too high maintenance, due to their good health and relative cleanliness.

They do require training, however, and their excitability will make them a noisy companion. They will also chase any other animals you own, such as a cat. If your children are energetic and other animals do not scare easily, a Feist may be perfect for your family. Be sure to train them, however, to keep them manageable. You don’t want an over-excitable Feist who runs away whenever you take them to the park.

6. Feist Dogs Are Very Intelligent

Luckily, training a Feist dog is not too difficult because they are very intelligent animals. All hunting dogs are intelligent because it is an essential part of tracking down prey. A Feist’s love of humans and its eagerness to impress us will make training relatively easy. Their territorial side will make training very necessary, and you should start early with socialization training.

Some very intelligent dogs can become a handful, but the Feist dog has just enough intelligence to make training easy, while not challenging your authority. This can make them a pretty good pet for first-time dog owners. Just remember to seek plenty of professional advice to make sure you training them using the best methods possible.

7. Feist Dogs Are Great For Pest Control

A Feist’s hunting past is not only great for their intelligence, but it is also very useful for you if you have a bit of a rat or mouse problem. This can come in handy in all homes, including small apartments, but it is most useful if you have plenty of lands to protect. Farm life can have a particularly notable rat and mouse problem. Whether you are farming the land, or are living on converted farmland, a Feist dog is a great dog for keeping unwanted visitors at bay.

Their heightened sight and smell will see rodents you probably wouldn’t even notice, and they will chase them away. They are also less likely to catch and kill these animals and bring them back to you as unwelcome gifts because they are just trackers. If you want to encourage this behavior, don’t forget to train them through rewards.

cute dog with ball

8. Feist Dogs Can Be Expensive

All dogs can rack up quite the cost over their lifetime, and it is worth noting that Feist dogs will be more expensive coming from a breeder than from a rescue shelter. Adopting a rescue can cost around $300 upfront while adopting from a breeder can cost between $400 to $3,000. This is not to say you shouldn’t adopt from a breeder, but do your research and make sure they are reputable and do not support puppy mills.

Their long lifespans will also contribute to quite a high total cost, so make sure you have the funds to support them financially for the rest of their lives. Many life events can affect your income, so look ahead and make sure there is always a plan for your new best friend.


  1. Samantha Drake, 10 Lesser-Known All-American Dog Breeds, PetMD

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